Film review: Three colors Red (1994)

Review is intended for people who have already watched the film. Spoilers may occur.

A chance friendship develops between Kern, a disillusioned retired judge, and a young woman, Valentine, her hopes and dreams intact. His dog escapes and is the reason they meet by accident. Perhaps the film is about how much of our life is decided by coincidence.

Both Valentine and the judge need to find their way in life, he makes pessimistic comments that are sort of a cry for help, he’s lonely and needs someone who will listen and encourage him to start living again. She asks what she can do to help, and the judge say, “just be there”. This is where the theme brotherhood comes into play, she can read between the lines his negative attitude is due to an unhappy love life.

According to actress Irene Jacob in the dvd extras, Kieslowski wanted to rediscover through the two characters that moment when the world is at your feet and everything is possible. The story is about if you don’t feel love, then nothing matters. Kieslowski doesn’t take a moral standpoint and doesn’t talk about the message of his films in interviews, he prefers to let the audience make up their own mind.

Like the characters feel like voyeurs, looking into other peoples lives, we the audience are in the same boat, studying the movie characters, and can pass our own personal judgements on events, like Valentine reacts to the judge’s surveillance of neighbours. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the lonely judge, even if he is spying on his neighbours.

Windows are a central theme in Kieslowski’s work. Blue (1993) begins with Julie breaking a window in anger and despair. Red ends with Kern’s window being broken, he doesn’t repair the glass, which could be interpreted as Kern’s desire to re-enter the world.

Valentine’s boyfriend Michel only exists on the phone, we never see him during the running time. A way of indicating he is only a shadow of a man, and not vital in Valentine’s life?

Valentine insists on the goodness in other people, which has a positive effect on Kern. On the flip side, Kern acts as a father figure to Valentine, through his words of wisdom and experience, she can learn things about life and herself. His behaviour and attitude confront Valentine with a different side of existence, which she is not used to from her life as a photo model.

From interview book Kieslowski on Kieslowski: “Valentine dearly wants to think of others, but she keeps thinking of others from her own perspective. She can’t do anything else. The audience can’t help it either. That’s the way it is. This poses the question: Even when we give something of ourselves, don’t we do it to appear better in our own eyes?”
“Valentine ought to have been born 40 years earlier or the judge 40 years later, they would have made a good couple. And they probably would have been happy together. I would think they have suited each other.”

Visually the film is technically very beautiful, for me Blue is the most astetically pleasing to the eye of the Three Colours trilogy, but in my opinion Red undoubtedly comes close in matching Blue in terms of use of colour and imaginative cinematography. I found the characters in Kieslowski's White to be the most interesting, somehow Blue And Red don't leave me with as many unanswered questions or emotional impact as White did.

Kern could arguably be Kieslowski the artist in disguise. A person withdrawn from the world who secretly monitors it, in a detached isolated position of being omnipotent and yet powerless. Kern is God, but also a living dead. He spies on people, although this doesn’t make him truly happy. Kern wanted change, and so did Kieslowski, it was his last film as a director.

I didn’t like the opening credits. Or the ending of Red, the boating accident, which I found to be completely unrealistic and didn’t seem to fit with the atmosphere of the rest of the film. Undoubtedly thoughtful closing, but sort of absurd and ironic.
Even so, the life imitates art red background right near the end by the water was a poetic moment. Was the director merely showing that art can mirror life, or is there a deeper meaning? Was it a coincidence who survived? Does fate play a part? Or is Kieslowski teasing his audience?

Readers, any thoughts on Red, and how do you understand the ending?

Next week, look out for my review of Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique (1991)




  1. I liked this one a good deal more than you. It's a film about the isolation many people feel they are under, the feeling of being alone, and how the strangest circumstances can lead us to forge a bond with an unexpected person.

    I do think there is more to Kern than just his literal existence as a Judge. He seems to know more than a Judge would know.

    I like the ending. I think it's Kieslowski finally giving these characters the companionship they've been seeking throughout these films and it's a solid way to bring closure to the trilogy.

  2. @cinemasights : Kern is certainly a fascinating character who as I wrote could arguably be Kieslowski the artist in disguise.

    Re. the ending, I understand that the redemption of the characters was the intention, For me the whole trilogy was based on realism, and suddenly we get Kiesklowski interfering as a sort of a godly presence-the coincidence of who survived was no longer realistic. Granted Julie, Karol, and Valentine were good people at heart-but didn't the audience know that already? I didn't need to be reminded. They deserved to survive-so I guess Kieslowski is saying which human qualities are worth saving. He had to end the trilogy somehow. I'm sure some would argue the entire trilogy was marked with the finger print of Kieslowski's interfering presence-not just the ending.

  3. James has just hit on one of Kieslowski's favourite themes: loneliness. So much of the film is about loneliness and the distance between people. The telephone, communication lines, etc., all represent opposites to Kieslowski just as social networking has led to people becoming more isolated than ever before from each other despite all the promises to the contrary and media hype of how it draws the family together.

    Yes there is much more to the judge than the obvious "Oh, he's just an elderly man disillusioned with his life as a judge who seems to have made one mistake after another and from whom love flew from him when he was younger."

    One thing I will say that I am certain about: there is something in this film about Kieslowski himself. Something very important. I just wish I knew what it was.

  4. Chris, I've added several links to your site on my Links page. I've also replied (sort of) to your question on my Forum! Have a good evening.

    A bientot,

    Alexandre Fabbri

  5. @ Alexandre FABBRI : Yeah, Kieslowsi's apparent dislike of telecommunications I talked about in my comment over in James' review of Red at cinemasights.

    Something in this film about Kieslowski himself...Could it be, as I wrote in my review, that Kieslowski was similar to Kern, an observer of life cut off from the world. An artist, or artisan as he called himself in an interview on your site, is also a spy, gathering information. I'm not saying Kieslowski was a
    100% the same as Kern, as Kieslowski did not judge people, but maybe their are a couple of similar personality traits.

    Thanks for linking, I need to get that book you advertise on your site "Kieslowski on Kieslowski", I have Lynch on Lynch already ( :

  6. I love how everyone has a different opinion on which is their favorite film in the trilogy or which one is the most beautiful. It just goes to show what masterpieces they all are.

  7. I agree totally, Chris, with your comment about the judge and Kieslowski. It's very hard for anybody not to come to that conclusion. For something different for this Monday evening, I've added a video clip to Kieslowski's World of Irene from a concert she gave at L'Europeen in Paris last May with her brother. Bonsoir!

  8. I can't wait to here your opinion on The Double Life of Veronique. It is one of my favorite films of all time. That being said I really need to get to seeing the three colors trilogy. I think I heard a blu-ray release was imminent so I might wait just a bit longer.

  9. @ impassionedcinema : I agree on The Double Life of Veronique being among his best, I'd be interested to hear your views on it ( :

    @ Bonjour Tristesse : That's so true, all 3 films are of such high quality, so each person has their favourite, and different opinions.

  10. This is my favourite of the Trilogy and just as Bonjour Tristesse mentioned, it is a testament to Kieslowski's work that each film can be loved for different reasons, and be claimed as a favourite.

    I am really interested in the unexpected crossing-over of lives and the idea of chance and fate so I really enjoyed this film. Strong, interesting characters, and Kieslowski's beautiful use of the camera (and the title colour) go without saying, but I like the ending. It makes me happy :-)

    Nice work again Chris. I am yet to watch The Decalogue, but I did watch Camera Buff, one of his early films, which was also excellent.

  11. @Andy Buckle : Thanks for visiting, I can understand your love for Red, has a special atmosphere. The more I watch Kieslowski's work, the more I notice how much chance and fate play a part. The American author Paul Auster is also very interested in coincidence/chance, and how it can alter your outlook on life, if you for example survive a near-death experience. A friend of Auster was struck by lightning and died instantly,while Auster was standing right next to him, and it could have been him that was killed, this influenced Auster's later books.

    Though I didn't think the ending was as realistic as the rest of the story, granted, has warmth, and can put a smile on your face ( :

    I too have not yet seen The Decalogue, or several of his 80s films. I intend to watch Blind Chance (1981), and perhaps review next, if I find the film interesting...


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